John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com
Geri Allen.
John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com

Geri Allen Trio at the Village Vanguard

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140086797/140293754" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

For some, jazz is a form of music defined by innovation. It's a language of hybrid invention, about a relentless quest for a new style, a new movement, a new expression. Alternately, there's a powerful argument for jazz as a tradition: a language of core values, worthy of a lifetime of respectful study, representative of a century of African-American cultural achievement. As the prevailing aesthetic outlook has it, both are equally valid; jazz is tradition and innovation, at once.

Over the last 30 years, it's hard to think of anyone who embodies this duality better than composer and pianist Geri Allen. As often as she's been lionized for the freshness of her playing, she's also been admired for the respect she's shown for its living history. WBGO and NPR Music featured the Geri Allen Trio in the Live at the Village Vanguard series of live on-air radio/online video broadcasts on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

Allen is known for her immense musical vocabulary. A recent example: In 2010, she released two distinct albums. One was the enveloping solo piano record Flying Toward the Sound, a suite of original, somewhat abstract works inspired by Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor. The other was Geri Allen and Timeline Live, a quartet recording with a new twist which is actually an old one: One band member is a percussive tap dancer. Her bassist for this trio hit, Kenny Davis, serves as lieutenant in several of her bands, including Timeline. And drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts played with Allen even before he played on breakout recordings with Wynton and Branford Marsalis.

Like many successful musicians from Detroit, Allen was mentored by trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, and attended Cass Technical High School, the city's magnet institution for performing arts. She also did some study in Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, but her career as a performer took off when she moved to New York. That's where she began to attract the attention of peers and elders alike: Her C.V. includes work with Ornette Coleman, Betty Carter, Paul Motian and Charlie Haden, Charles Lloyd, Mary Wilson of The Supremes, members of the Black Rock Coalition and many of the players who helped develop the M-Base philosophy.

Now 54, Allen has put together a discography nearing 20 records as a leader alone, and she is currently a professor at the University of Michigan. But she still tours often, and the Village Vanguard is a regular destination for her. She cut a live trio record there in December 1990, which means she's been playing the downtown Manhattan club for at least 20 years.

Set List
  • "Tears Of A Clown" (Wonder/Robinson)
  • "GW" (Dolphy)
  • "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" (Strayhorn)
  • "Flower Of May/Unconditional Love" (Allen)
  • "Goldaze" (Watts)
  • "Drummer's Song" (Allen)
  • "Elviry" (Davis)
  • "Joe Btfsplk" (Byron)
  • "Lucky To Be Me" (Bernstein)
  • "Our Lady" (Allen)
Personnel
  • Geri Allen, piano
  • Kenny Davis, bass
  • Jeff "Tain" Watts, drums
Credits
  • Josh Jackson, producer and host
  • David Tallacksen, mix engineer
  • Michael Downes, assistant
  • Lara Pellegrinelli, moderator
[+] read more[-] less

More From Jazz

Meredith D'Ambrosio appears on the cover of her 1981 album Another Time. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Meredith D'Ambrosio On Piano Jazz

The vocalist, pianist, visual artist and teacher joined Marian McPartland in 1994.

Meredith D'Ambrosio On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504133599/504135813" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Lonnie Liston Smith on the cover of Astral Traveling (1973). Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Lonnie Liston Smith On Piano Jazz

One of contemporary music's most versatile keyboardists, Smith joined Marian McPartland in 2002.

Lonnie Liston Smith In The Studio

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/503335536/503336370" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Nellie Lutcher. William P. Gottlieb/Library of Congress hide caption

toggle caption William P. Gottlieb/Library of Congress

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Nellie Lutcher On Piano Jazz

Hear the vocalist and pianist play her original tunes "Hurry On Down" and "Real Gone Guy."

Nellie Lutcher On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/502487319/502603441" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Richard "Dick" Sudhalter appears on the cover of The Classic Jazz Quartet: The Complete Recordings. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Richard Sudhalter On Piano Jazz

The cornetist and critic performs "Chasing Shadows" with Marian McPartland in a 1992 session.

Richard Sudhalter On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/501714165/501719238" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Billy Strayhorn (right), spent the majority of his career as a composer and arranger for Duke Ellington (left) and his orchestra. David Redfern/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption David Redfern/Getty Images

Jazz Night In America

The Lush Life Of Billy Strayhorn

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

He was remarkable not only for his music, but for living as an openly gay black man in the '40s.

The Lush Life Of Billy Strayhorn

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/500504682/500512491" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Jackie Cain and Roy Kral at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay, Calif., in 1982. Brian McMillen/Wikimedia Commons hide caption

toggle caption Brian McMillen/Wikimedia Commons

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Jackie And Roy On Piano Jazz

Hear the husband-and-wife duo join Marian McPartland for a trio version of "Joy Spring."

Jackie And Roy On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/497936484/497939089" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Oliver Jones. Michael Slobodian/Michael Slobodian hide caption

toggle caption Michael Slobodian/Michael Slobodian

Jazz Night In America

Oliver Jones: A Canadian Jazz Legend Heads Home

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

In Canada, jazz pianist Oliver Jones is a hero, adored in his native Quebec and across the country.

Oliver Jones: A Canadian Jazz Legend Heads Home

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/497793760/497806357" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Chucho Valdés. Elmer Martinez/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Elmer Martinez/AFP/Getty Images

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Chucho Valdés On Piano Jazz

Hear the innovator in Latin jazz play his original compositions "Claudia" and "Mambo Influenciado."

Chucho Valdés On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/496891193/497008290" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top